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Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic

ITP student Sandy Mui (MA in Liberal Studies) developed the following independent study project

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, news publishers were deemed “essential” businesses, underlining the vital role that journalists play in our society. Indeed, journalism is perhaps never more important than at a time of intersecting challenges for the United States with the health crisis and associated economic spiral, a divisive political election and its aftermath, and period of protest and reckoning with systemic racism. And yet, when people most need factual information to counter the deluge of mis- and disinformation, the pandemic has had a damaging impact on journalism in the United States. The pandemic has presented unique opportunities for political forces, following President Donald Trump’s lead, to inhibit and delegitimize the practices of a free press. Even as the demands for newsgathering have grown, newsrooms are facing unprecedented economic challenges, forcing some to shutter and others to face cutbacks in staff and other resources. And, alongside others in their communities, journalists have succumbed to the virus.

Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic [pen.org] aims to humanize and detail the toll of the coronavirus on journalism in the United States. While we will never know the pandemic’s full impact, this project—which examines the first 10 months of the pandemic from March to December 2020—is a start. The project pays tribute to journalists and media professionals whose lives were cut short due to COVID, focuses on five of the U.S. states with among the most negatively affected newsrooms, and highlights incidents of free press threats that have a direct relation to the coronavirus.

This project, published by the literary and free expression group PEN America, was created by Sandy Mui (PEN America’s digital communications assistant) as her independent study project for the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy certificate program at The Graduate Center. Mui also made an appearance on The PEN Pod [pen.org], PEN America’s podcast, to talk about the project’s humanized look at the pandemic’s impact on journalism and the process behind executing the project. Ximena Gallardo C. served as advisor in her role at The Graduate Center.